Fonterra 'fine' for dirty dairying 'slap on wrist'

Environmental lobbyists say moves by big dairy co-operative Fonterra to crack down on farmers polluting waterways are a mere slap on the wrist.

Fonterra today threatened to hold back $1500 from the milk payout for farmers who received infringement notices, and $3000 if the farmer was prosecuted.

The average Fonterra farmer last season received a milk payout of more than $800,000.

The company today said 11 percent of its farmers still seriously breached regional council regulations, and that those levels of offending were "unacceptable".

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the proposal to withhold a "tiny portion" of the milk payouts suggested the company was not serious about promoting responsible farming and cleaning up rivers.

"The fines are insignificant, and the target is pathetic - this is illegal activity," he said.

"The environment will wear the cost, and those farmers doing the right thing will continue to have their reputations tarnished by the bad eggs."

Fish and Game New Zealand chief executive Bryce Johnson called for a more robust approach, because Fonterra's target of cutting serious non-compliance by 50 percent by August 2011 would allow some farmers to continue polluting. "Fonterra is explicitly condoning the ongoing flaunting of the law by a proportion of their farmer shareholders," he said.

"This is not acceptable to most New Zealanders.

"To set a target of 50 percent improvement over two-and-a-half years smacks of `green wash'."

Fonterra said staff would provide advice "to the minority of farmers who have been identified as needing support".

Barry Harris, who chaired Fonterra's sustainability leadership team, and previously negotiated the Clean Streams Accord with Fonterra for regional councils, said progress on effluent management was one area that continued to let down Fonterra and threaten the image of New Zealand dairying and access to natural resources.

"Most of our farmers, despite complex rules and changing expectations, have made excellent progress in establishing robust effluent management systems," he said.

"But others are experiencing difficulties in complying with regional council regulations and that level of non-compliance remains much too high".

Sustainable dairy advisors at the company could help identify problems that might result in non-compliance, and the effluent "grading" deduction system would be used against persistent non-complying farmers.

Next dairy season would give farmers time to become familiar with the new system with emphasis on advice and scope for an "advisory deduction" before the real thing is imposed in the 2010-2011 season, with a deadline of acceptable compliance by August 2011.